Fish fossils that are about 23 million years old give unprecedented insight into the evolutionary history of the gobioid order, one of the most species-rich groups among the modern bony fishes.
Researchers led by paleontologist Professor Bettina Reichenbacher from the Division of Paleontology and Geobiology at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich / Germany have completed a comprehensive analysis of fish fossils which they assign to the group of bony fishes that includes the gobies. Their results, which have just appeared in the journal PLOS ONE, provide new insights into the evolutionary history of these fish and also have implications for their taxonomy.
The fossil material examined is unusually well preserved. "This has allowed us to describe a gobioid fossil in greater detail than ever before," says Reichenbacher. Indeed, the authors of the new study have been able to show that the fossil species concerned does not belong to the true gobies at all, in contrast to what earlier investigators had concluded. It is a member of an enigmatic family now known as the Butidae. Until very recently Butidae had been classified among the sleeper gobies. The family is now recognized as a separate clade, whose members are found in tropical river systems of Africa, Madagascar, Asia and Australia. Furthermore, no fossil specimens that could be attributed to this family have been identified until now. Indeed, datable gobioid fossils are comparatively rare in the fossil record. Since fossils of known age provide chronological markers of phylogeny, this has hampered understanding of the evolutionary history of this highly successful group of fishes.
The signature ear-stones
The new description published by the LMU team, in collaboration with a group of French researchers, is based on material that was discovered in the South of France and made available for study by the
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